Friday, February 13–Public, Private Partnership Key To Berlin Green Effort

BERLIN – A packed room greeted the launch of the Grow Berlin Green environmental partnership between town government and three local environmental organizations Tuesday night.

Grow Berlin Green (GBG) is a coalition of the Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT), Lower Shore Land Trust (LSLT), and Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) with the town of Berlin.

Mayor Gee Williams opened the meeting, saying that the town’s values have evolved to include green living. This new attitude is reflected in the recent staff decision to replace the bottled water provided in town hall to town water from water coolers and the addition of pitchers of water on the dais at town council meetings.

“It’s a very small thing, but it’s just one more of our own examples where we want to show we want to take action,” Williams said.

When Kate Patton, director of the Lower Shore Land Trust, proposed a partnership between the town and local environmental organizations, Williams said it was a natural fit.

“We are on to something,” Williams said. “Over time we’ll go as far as you’ll allow us to go in terms of your support as citizens.”

The GBG team encouraged community dialogue, fielding suggestions and questions from the crowd.

“We don’t know all the answers. We don’t even know all the questions,” said GBG project director Steve Farr, also ACT’s development director. Raising questions and answering them will be a long-term process.

At the moment, Farr said there is a gap between desire and action, and GBG would like to bridge that gap.

“Outreach and education is an integral part of this,” said MCBP Director Dave Wilson.

Details of what people want to do and need to learn should come from the community, he said. Eventually, GBG might set up meetings on specific issues like stormwater.

GBG should help put Berlin at the front of the pack, according to Wilson.

“When you’re ahead of the curve, you tend to draw those state and federal dollars faster than those slugs behind you,” Wilson said.

Working together leverages more money. “It puts us in a much more competitive situation to access those funds,” said Patton.

A $125,000 grant, announced last month, from the Town Creek Foundation kicked off the planned three-year program.

“We have funding for one year. I’m confident this thing is going to go like gangbusters and we have feelers out,” Farr said.

 The new initiative is looking at what people can do on their own as well as through the town, like rain gardens or rain barrels to reduce stormwater flooding and conserve water.

Some of the proposed projects under the GBG umbrella already dovetail with initiatives through other groups. A reusable shopping bag initiative works hand in hand with the Maryland Main Street program plan to provide those bags, for example.

The public should direct GBG’s policy, Wilson said.

Several audience members expressed concern over recycling.

People need to be encouraged to recycle more, Farr agreed.

One woman asked why there were so few trashcans in town and no recycling cans.

There was also a call for more trees in Berlin from the audience. Trees improve the town’s property values, consume rainwater and reduce energy costs for local buildings. Old trees should also be protected and trees should be required in new development, audience members felt. The town should mandate that new buildings maintain trees and landscaping after planting.

Urban forestry is the second-most cost-effective way to reduce global warming, resident Sandy Coyman, who is the county’s comprehensive planning director, said.

“That’s definitely on the agenda,” Farr said.

One audience member inquired whether GBG intended to make Berlin a totally green community powered by solar or wind power.

“Our goal is to do as much as we can toward those kinds of goals,” Farr said, although it probably could not be accomplished in three years.

Berlin Planning Commission member Pete Cosby suggested recycling should be extended to old buildings in town, which contain salvageable wood or brick.

The town could work with the landfill to offer an area for salvageable or still usable goods, one citizen suggested, thus recycling old furniture or building materials.

Cosby also suggested the town outlaw lawn fertilizer, which damages local water quality.

GBG leaders told the crowd to keep the ideas coming.

“This initiative is premised on the participation and involvement of the community,” Farr said. “We can only make meaningful change if government and citizens work together. This is not going to be about us tree huggers preaching at you.”